Two of our least understood experiences join forces.
Mymother always called me at odd hours for the most random topics of conversation. So, when I heard my cell phone buzzing on the nightstand at around 6 a.m., looked and saw that it was her, I thought nothing of it. I’d been conditioned to take such calls lightly. I rolled over and shut my eyes in an effort to grab a few more moments of sleep. She called back, which was also common and not an indicator of urgency. I shut my eyes tighter and pulled the covers over my face to block the rising sun.
When I finally decided to join the ranks of productivity a couple of hours later, I sat up in bed, grabbed my phone and saw that my mother had left a voicemail. I pressed “listen” but couldn’t decipher what I heard. Her voice was inaudible, cracking, fading, and disjointed. All I could make out after several replays was “mom” and “hospital.”
Not yet overly concerned, I returned the phone call to figure out exactly what was happening. Turns out something had happened. It was done. My mother informed me that her mother was found unresponsive and rushed to the hospital. But it was too late. She was dead. The woman who bathed me as a child, taught me to be kind, cooked my meals, expected my best efforts and disciplined me when this is not what I offered, was gone. The woman who raised me and for all intents and purposes, though not biologically, was my mother — was dead.
She wasn’t battling serious illness and was only in her 70s, so this was completely unexpected. A sorrow that I had never known immediately overwhelmed me. As did another uncharted emotion. I was stricken immobile with grief, confusion, and boundless love that had been planted deep inside of me, now uprooted with no place to go — no object.
At 28 years old, I cried uncontrollably for the first time since I was a small child. I sat in one spot on the floor in my bedroom for what felt like hours. Then I went to the living room, sat on the couch and bawled there too. I wanted to get up, put clothes on, and join my family at the hospital, but I couldn’t. Always adept at pulling myself together, washing my face and braving any circumstance, this time I couldn’t. Life got the knockout this round. And I didn’t know what to do because this was a circumstance I’d never encountered.
I knew that I loved my grandmother, but in theory, not in practice. We didn’t have a tender or intimate relationship. I knew her as the role that she played in my life, not as a person. I didn’t know her story or who she was outside of my protector and provider. But the void that she filled in my existence, left suddenly vacant was enough to break my spirit clean in two.
I didn’t know that we had THIS much of a connection, or that I harnessed this much adoration in my grandmother’s name. Of course, I thought I’d be sad if anything ever happened to her, but I was unprepared for the feelings that facing such a reality would unearth and unleash inside of me. I suppose this is the case when anyone dies. It’s just a situation for which, even when we know it’s coming, we can never brace ourselves.
The death of my grandmother taught me that love, like grief, is immeasurable. We really don’t know what it means or the depths of its reach. We’re just aware that something profound is happening within us, something inexplicable. Yet, we aren’t sure how exactly it will affect the elements of our being. That part occurs someplace outside the realm of both our awareness and comprehension.
Love exists in its own spaces, on its own time. It is its own force. Love does not need our permission to be. It just is. How foolish to think we are its master.
When my grandmother died, I experienced for the first time this feeling of absolute, unruly, authentic love. If you’re wondering why I’d never witnessed its power before, it’s because my assigned teachers were still learning. My mother was barely an adult, and my father was at war with formidable demons.
Then there was me. And my grandmother — whose methods I did not always agree with but who made me the woman of whom I came to be proud. She’d already raised her 10 children. She didn’t have to step in and care for me as she did, but she did. Even in her untimely demise, when I was again searching for the place that I belong in the world, she left me with the greatest lesson of all — that despite all that had happened to harden my heart, and the un-bondable breaks I’d endured, I was still capable of feeling a love that was equal parts heart-warming and heart-wrenching.
I like to believe this was her plan all along.